NEWARK, NJ — An ordinance put forth by Mayor Ras Baraka creating a permanent headquarters for the city’s Office of Violence Prevention and outlawing racist activity, among other actions. was signed into law on Wednesday hours after being approved by all nine Newark City Council Members,
The Office of Violence Prevention will be housed at the Newark Police Division’s 1st Precinct, the site where the 1967 Newark uprisings began. By Dec. 31, 2021, the station will be closed to begin its new life as a hub for city social workers and a museum showcasing activism in Newark and reforms made in its policing.
The ordinance is the city’s response to the recent momentum against police brutality following the death of George Floyd, and will also redirect $12 million of the city’s $229 million public safety budget to the Office of Violence Prevention, which Baraka emphasized includes trauma recovery.
Newark is so far the only municipality in New Jersey to meet nationwide calls by protestors to redirect oversized police budgets to other programs.
“I think George Floyd and all of the uprising across the country expedited what we were trying to make happen in a slow, monotonous kind of way. The moment made us say, ‘We need to do this now,” Baraka said on Wednesday in front of the 1st Precinct.
Under the new law, city employees will be immediately separated from their jobs and future city employment for any racist behavior. Hate groups, such as the KKK or neo-Nazis, are also banned from the city.
Councilman-at-large Carlos Gonzalez, who initially abstained from voting during the ordinance's first reading, said he had FIrst Amendment concerns before eventually voting yes. Baraka said it’s not what these groups say, but what they do that makes them a danger to Newark. As of this February, New Jersey's annual Terrorism Threat Assessment listed white supremacists as a high-level threat in the state.
Drawing on the United States’ long history of brutalizing black communities and people, Baraka said that the label of “terrorist” for white supremacists is one that finally sets the record straight.
“They have a history of terror. If the United States State Department can declare Boko Haram, Intifada, Hamas, PLO terrorist groups, and that anything you do to support these groups is a criminal act because they’re a threat to the state, we say that the Klan and white supremacist groups are a threat to us,” he said.
While the city isn’t sure how many social workers will be hired through the redirected funds yet, according to Baraka, much of the work being done to embed social work into policing was already occurring in Newark. The city mandates that for every 25 police officers, one social worker must also be hired.
The city also supports anti-violence groups like the Brick City Peace Collective, Newark Street Academy and the Newark Community Street Team, which are also set to be headquartered at the 1st Precinct. Daamin Ali, COO of NCST, said all the anti-violence groups, which fall under the umbrella of the Brick City Peace Collective, will now be able to operate and collaborate under one roof in a more streamlined way.
“This will help with resources so we can deploy our workers all around the city to help stem some of the conflicts taking place,” he said.
Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said that while no department layoffs will be taking place for officers, there will likely be reductions in attrition — and with the success of the program, fewer calls for service from police. The city is still in the process of working out where it will place the officers currently assigned to the 1st Precinct.
“There is an immediate inclination to focus on the disruption of the police department, but we should begin to think about how the community is going to benefit from this,” Baraka said. “That kind of disconnect is what causes what we’re seeing all over the county, when we’re overly concerned about what’s happening to the police rather than what’s happening to the people.”